Syrian forces kill 17, including women and children, in Deraa

Syrian residents gather in front of the bodies of people whom protesters say were killed by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, during their funeral in Deraa. (Reuters)

The Syrian town of Deraa, where the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad erupted 15 months ago, was the scene of a new massacre on Saturday when helling by government forces killed 17 people, including 10 women, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

Fighting was also reported in Homs and Damascus, killing a total of 44 civilians and 25 on Friday, the group said, showing neither side was respecting a U.N.-backed ceasefire, the failure of which has left outside powers divided on what to do next.

“We didn't sleep all night, the situation is a mess, all kinds of explosions and heavy weapons,” a Deraa resident who called himself Adnan, said via Skype.

“We could hear the blast from the rockets hitting in the neighborhood nearby. If we were afraid, you can imagine how afraid our children are.”

Al Arabiya TV on Saturday broadcast live footage showing thousands of the residents in Deraa taking part in the funeral of those killed overnight.

Mobile communications in the town had been cut off on Saturday morning, Shams News Network (SNN) reported.

In central Damascus, rebels brazenly battled government security forces in the heart of the capital Friday for the first time, witnesses said, and explosions echoed for hours. Government artillery repeatedly pounded the central city of Homs and troops tried to storm it from three sides.

The deaths in Daraa came amid an international outcry over the killings of civilians on Wednesday in an assault on al-Qubair, a Sunni farming enclave of some 150 people in the central province of Hama which is encircled by Alawite villages.

More than 13,500 people have been killed since the uprising erupted, according to the Observatory’s figures.

Meanwhile, leaders of the exiled Syrian National Council (SNC) met in Turkey on Saturday to pick a new leader after the resignation of Burhan Ghalioun last month to avert divisions in the opposition bloc.

Sources in the group said the aim was to pick a “consensus” candidate who would be acceptable to Islamists, liberals and nationalists. They said it could be Abdel Basset Sayda, a Kurd, and member of the SNC’s executive.

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